Sunday, September 29, 2013

Viewing Life in Panavision, by Rev Steven R Mitchell based on Luke 16:19-31

Viewing Life in Panavision

By Rev. Steven R. Mitchell

Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 9/29/2013

Based on Luke 16:19-31



            As many of you know, I am a great fan of motion pictures, early Television programs, and of early radio programs.   As radio gave way to Television, many of the early 1950 T.V. programs were continuations of radio hits, such as The Jack Benny Show, or Amos and Andy.  One of my favorite T.V. couples is George Burns and Gracie Allen.  For those of you who might not be familiar with Burns and Allen, both were comedians with George being the person who would set up the joke or the story line while Gracie was the person who would deliver the lines that would receive the laughs.  She was portrayed as a scattered brained housewife and would generally be the person who was always able to resolve whatever the crisis of the day was, in her own unique and very quirky logic!

        In one episode, Gracie was working hard at becoming a member of a prestigious book club.  She enlists George’s help to stage their living room so that it would look as scholarly as possible.  She had George place small statuaries on the coffee table that were of Shakespeare, David, and Venus De Milo.   While placing a few classical books here and there, George asked her where she wanted the book, Tale of Two Cities placed.  She thought for a few seconds then decided that it shouldn’t go out on any of the end tables.  When George asked “why”, Gracie responded with, “I haven’t read the book yet and one of the cities might be in Florida.”  This in her mind was not a good thing.

        Today’s Gospel reading is very much like the title of the book “Tale of Two Cities”.  It is a parable of two men and of two realities; this physical world and the afterlife.  It is a story of a rich man and of a poor beggar, a story of two social classes, and a world of comfort verses a world of afflictions.  It is also a story of reversals.  The poor man is given a name, Lazarus, and the rich man is not named.  In the story, we read where the rich man is dressed in purple while the beggar is dressed in sores, the rich man has ample food, living in abundance and in luxury, while Lazarus is praying for just the crumbs from the rich man’s table, and lives out on the street.  Then when Lazarus dies, it is Lazarus who is in the bosom of Abraham, the Patriarchal Father, and it is the rich man who is now living in Hades.  Both far removed from their former physical life’s circumstances.

        This parable is filled with such subtle messages that most modern ears will miss if not familiar with early Jewish understanding.  This story to the original audience was a story so abrasive, I am surprised that Jesus wasn’t taken out and strung up at its very telling.  Every reference to the rich man was a reference to “being acceptable”, that of “being a righteous man before God”, while the poor beggar Lazarus would be perceived as one filled with “sin” and his living in poverty and plagued with sores was the punishment for his sinful ways.  Yet, after death it was Lazarus who was in the arms of Abraham, which translates into being in the arms of God (Abraham being the founding father of the Hebrew faith, the highest example of righteous living) while it was just the opposite for the rich man who finds himself in eternal damnation.   All of this was a frontal assault on the perception of one’s trust in wealth as an assurance of your righteousness or right living and your salvation.

        Jesus’ telling of this story comes directly after telling the parable of the “Shrewd Manager”, where he warns the children of the light (those who follow after Jesus) to be street-wise and as clever as the shrewd manager but only for good.   In verse 14, we read: 14The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15Jesus said to them, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight.

        This parable doesn’t portray the rich man as being cruel or antagonistic toward Lazarus.  For in truth, the rich man when he is looking through his window or even when he comes and goes from his home doesn’t even notice Lazarus sitting outside his door.  You ask yourself, “How could anyone not notice someone who is dressed in filthy rages, covered in sores, and begging for food right outside of your own house? 

One of the criticisms that I hear about Aurora’s self-perception is the view that Aurora has no poverty, but what portion of sidewalk on E. Colfax or at any major intersection is there not someone sleeping in a doorway or holding a sign for help?  You can hear them asking you for money but as long as you don’t look at them, you can walk by them, hearing their pleas as nothing more than white background noise, thereby having very little intrusion on your consciousness; they truly are not there.  But the minute you make eye to eye contact with one of these people, you at that point have recognized their plight and at that point must wrestle with your conscience about whether or not you will help them with a few coins.  Your life has now been expanded to Panavision, seeing more than what you previously saw.  This parable is attacking the rich, not because of their wealth, but because of their lack of responding to the needs of those who are suffering and living without basic necessities. 

This parable is depicted in the 1927 German expressionist silent film, Metropolis, then remade as animation in 2001, and again retold in the current movie Elysium, where we see the social crisis between workers and owners in capitalism.  The story line is this futurist city where all of the capitalists live above ground in these marvelous skyscrapers and enjoy all the benefits of the “good life”, much like the rich man, at the expense of those laborers (the Lazarus’s of the world) who are doing back-breaking and life-threatening work far beneath the earth’s surface, totally un-noticed by those who are benefiting from their harsh existence.

Today’s parable is a call for “Social Justice”!  We as Christians cannot claim to have an active faith in the teachings of Christ, without being active in Social Justice Issues.  This parable is calling us to task and letting us know that we as “good” people will ultimately be held accountable for the lack of response to those who are suffering from economic deprivation, of those who suffer from social alienation, and of our stewardship of our natural resources. 

I used to rent out some of the bedrooms of my house to college students when I was pastor at the Kittitas church.  One housemate in particular wasn’t the best English student and had transferred to Central Washington University from a very liberal college in Western Washington.  He asked me to read a paper that he had written because he wasn’t receiving the best grades from his earlier work. 

He was very proud of this particular paper as it was showing the “evils” of the wealthiest of Americans (such as the Rockefellers, the Whitney’s for example) and how they have gained, as well as maintained their wealth at the expense of developing Countries.  Not that there wasn’t a good amount of truth in his report, but I asked him about his part as a “Wealthy American” who’s life style is supported by these same under-developed Countries?  He was totally unaware of what I was asking about, after all he didn’t come from a huge money family and was a struggling college student.  So we began a conversation about the amount of the world resources and how much we as Americans use compared to the rest of the world and that even our basic, what we would call, average economical existence is very much based on the cheap labor of under developed Countries.  [refer to the site]

 In essence, we are very unaware of the poverty of much of the world.  That doesn’t make us bad people, but like the rich man, we do not see the true picture of our standard of living and what it costs those who don’t have enough to survive on.

I wonder as a congregation, at what level of “awareness” and of action we see ourselves?  As students of Christ what grade would He be giving us on our overall response to social justice issues? Would Jesus grade us as a Lazarus or would He grade us at the level of the “rich man”?  I think Jesus would have us be more active in our understanding the brokenness of our immigration laws.  I think He would want us to be finding those who are disenfranchised in our community and working to bring them into community.  Jesus would call us to work and learn how we could reduce our carbon footprint for the benefit of future generations. 

This parable is a direct call for us to personally examine our hearts and to work at making the invisible (these social justice issues) into being visible within our hearts.  It is a call for us to make that eye-to-eye contact with those in need, and respond to that need. This parable powerfully calls into question how we handle not only our resources in dollars, but our time and attention, and whether we “see” the poor at our doors.  It calls us to realize, as the wealthiest nation in the world, who is suffering at the cost of what we enjoy on a daily basis.  It is a parable calling us to make visible, within our minds and hearts, the invisible suffering of those outside of our doors, within the city of Aurora, of this country, and of the world at large.   Amen

Perspective of Wealth compared to the other 7 Billion world inhabitants.

U.S. Gov’t standard of definition of poverty in United States are per household:  1 person  $11,490, 2 person  $$15,510, 5 person  $27,570

If your income is:

$11,940  you are one of the 13.29% of income in the world (86.71% earn less) $20,000  you are one of the 3.27% of income in the world (96.73% earn less)

$30,000  you are one of the 1.10% of income in the world (8.90% earn less)

$40,000  you are one of the .51% of income in the world (99.49% earn less)

$50,000  you are one of the .28% of income in the world (99.72% earn less)

$70,000  you are one of the .11% of income in the world (99.89% earn less)


If your net assets (equity in house/possessions/investments) or Wealth is:

$60,000  you are in the top 13.87% wealthiest people in the world

$90,000  you are in the top 8.59% wealthiest people in the world

$140,000  you are in the top 6.37% wealthiest people in the world

If you are retired and own your home you could possess wealth at the level of $320,000  putting you in the top 3.65% wealthiest people in the world

($200,000 equity in house, $20,000 possessions, $100,000 investment)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Fiduciary Responsibilities, by Rev Steven R Mitchell, based on Luke 16:1-13

Fiduciary Responsibilities

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United, Aurora, 09/22/2013

Based on Luke 16:1-13


Our text this morning is a continuation of parables that Jesus has been sharing with his disciples and the Pharisees.   In Chapter 15, the stories of the lost lamb, the lost coin, and the return of the lost son (more commonly known as the Prodigal Son) all seem to lift up the idea of the joy of the person who is doing the seeking of those things lost or more spiritually put, how God rejoices when one who is lost is found and re-united with God who is the seeker. 

In this morning’s text, there is a shift in who is being praised.  The story Jesus now shares is a man who has fiduciary responsibilities to his master, but has been squandering his master’s wealth.  Upon learning that he was going to be fired, he gathers those people who have outstanding bills with the master and goes about dismissing portions of those bills as a way of insuring his well being once he is fired.  Although those who had had their debts decreased to the master now find that they are indebted to this “over seer”, and this man appears to be praised by Jesus for his shrewdness.   If Jesus were living these days, He might very well be using examples of many of the managers of large corporations, who have received “golden parachutes” while the stockholders that they had fiduciary responsibilities to were financially hurt in this Great Recession.  From a legal standpoint, these people who received these “golden parachutes” have done nothing wrong, but one might ask about the moral rightness in the way in which those CEO’s conducted their business decisions on behalf of the stockholders they had fiduciary responsibilities toward.

One of the questions that this parable asks is the question of motives, “why do we do what we do?”  By all accounts, this is one of the hardest parables that Jesus has offered thus far in the Gospel of Luke.  It is a definite challenge to those of us, who have grown up with the teaching that “honesty” is the best policy, and a strong Puritan work ethic, meaning I do my best at my job, then I will be rewarded; if I slough off in my job, I will be reprimanded.  Yet here in this parable, we read where the lazy manager, who knows he is going to get fired, gives away large portions of debt that belongs to his boss.  In essence, he damages his employer’s position financially.  Now this actually isn’t an uncommon practice of an employee doing harm to his/her employer when they know that they are going to get fired, but the kicker to this story is that the employee is not chastised or even brought to court for his actions, but rather is commended on his “shrewdness” by his employer.  This story goes directly against what we are taught as what is and isn’t “ethical” behavior.  So how do we deal with such a parable that seems to oppose our understanding of “right” and “wrong?”

Let me try to bring at least one point of view on what we might learn from this story by re-reading a portion of the text from the Eugene Peterson’s version, The Message: 

 3-4"The manager said to himself, 'What am I going to do? I've lost my job as manager. I'm not strong enough for a laboring job, and I'm too proud to beg. . . . Ah, I've got a plan,…and when I'm turned out into the street, people will take me into their houses.' …  8-9"Now here's a surprise: The master praised the crooked manager! And why? Because he knew how to look after himself. Streetwise people are smarter in this regard than law-abiding citizens. They are on constant alert, looking for angles, surviving by their wits. I want you to be smart in the same way—but for what is right—using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you'll live, really live, and not complacently just get by on good behavior."

First off, we must understand that the “manager” was not praised for being dishonest or dishonorable with respect to the “employers” property.  What the manager was being praised for was his ability to position himself so once he lost his job, he would have a way of taking care of himself, he was being congratulated for his “shrewdness”, for his “wittiness”, he was street smart and he knew how to survive.   You see, the manager wasn’t actually reducing the debt of those who owed money to the wealthy landlord to get back at being fired, rather once these people accepted this managers offer, they became “indebted” to the manager as well.  For once the manager loses his job, he can then go and “call in the favor” that he gave them and have a home to live in and food to eat.  His actions, although dishonest and even harmful to his employer, were ultimately beneficial to his own well being.  His motives were no more honorable toward those whom he was forgiving debt, because, he was looking out for his own benefit in the end, doing something that would allow him to receive favors later down the road.

We need to understand that Jesus was speaking of the ability to recognize the connection between resources and relationships.  The manager knew what was at hand and acted in such a way as to provide the most bang for the buck, so to speak.  When we understand the parable from this point of view, we can then start asking very important questions of our self, or more importantly of the congregations that we are a part of, as to how are we handling what we have been “entrusted” with?  If we combine a verse from the book of Proverb’s (Prov. 29:18), Solomon says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish”  “The parable of the manager speaks especially to Christians or communities who have lost the vision of the larger picture.  Who are the people of God?  What have they been called to do?  When we have no idea where we are going, the treasures in front of us are hardly treasures at all; they are simply things, things that have no larger value beyond our own need for them.  These things too easily become objects to be used, misused, and manipulated.” pg 94 of  Feasting on the Word, Yr C, Vol. 4

The question “what does our church mean to us”, is a hugely important question, for it brings with it a value that we place upon the function of this institution.  Is the church just for us, or is it something bigger than we are?  What does it mean when we say, “this is truly Christ’s ministry?”  If it is, then how have we been handling His property?  You see, we are the “manager” in this parable, when we call ourselves “disciples of Christ”.  The landlord is ultimately God.  As managers of God’s property, are we being faithful to what God is asking of us?  Have we been treating our faith, this thing we call salvation with honesty and integrity?  Do we as a church have a vision as to what “its ministry” is supposed to be?  For if we don’t have a vision of what God is calling us to do, then we are very much like the manager and our actions, our worship really, is not being honest to the one that we call our God.   We will ultimately squander away the resources that are in hand and will perish as an entity we call the church.  

        This is the crisis that Jesus addresses in his parable.  The children of light have lost the vision for God.  It is easy to grow complacent about responsibilities God gives us.  The parable is a call to reclaim who we are and to renew our vision today for the kingdom of God beyond us and among us. Helen Debevoise, Feasting on the word, Yr C, 4 vol.    Before we can value the treasure that God has given us through our congregational presence, we need to have a vision, a goal.  We need to be street-wise as to what we have in hand and know how to use what God has given us in order to be proper stewards of what God has entrusted to us.     For without a vision of what our ministries are to be, then we will ultimately perish and we will have squandered the work that our predecessors have already achieved.  If our motive is to “just survive” so there is some place for us to come on Sunday mornings, then we have the worst of motives and have given away the real riches that God has entrusted to us.  If we invite people into our congregations solely in hopes of keeping the church’s doors open, then we are no better than the manager.  Rather, we should be inviting people into relationship; relationship with one another, relationship with Christ, not expecting anything back, but fully prepared to give away the resources of the church, solely because these resources are God’s to begin with.  What is this resource?  Nothing less than love and acceptance, of reconciliation and a place where everyone knows that they are accepted for who they are, a child of God!  Amen


Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Church of Seekers, by Rev Steven R Mitchell based on Luke 15:1-10

A Church of Seekers

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United Church, Aurora, CO 9/15/2013

Based on Luke 15:1-10


        It just seems appropriate to start this mornings reflection off with a hit song from 1970, song by BJ Thomas:

Rain drops keep fallin’ on my head, and just like the guy whose feet are too big for his bed, Nothin’ seems to fit.  Those rain drops are fallin’ on my head, they keep fallin’.

Since Wednesday we have seen more rain than we do for a whole year.  Aurora received 12” of rain on Thursday and it seems to just keep coming.  Saturday afternoon in less than an hour we received 3.6” along with hail.  We have experienced city wide flooding during these rains.  Whole communities such as Estes Park, Allens Park, and Lyons have been cut off from the rest of the state due to flooding.  Over 60 miles of Interstate 25 from Longmont to the Wyoming boarder has been closed down because of massive flooding.  According to the news reports we are experiencing a 500 year cycle regarding to flooding. 

        On yesterday’s news station, I heard a report from a representative for the Colorado National Guard saying over 1,700 people have been rescued over the past few days from remote towns.  They are saying that this has been the largest rescue of people since the 2004 hurricane Katrina.  Rescued by high axle vehicles, boats, and helicopters; the same helicopters that were used this summer to drop fire retardants on the forest fires that occurred because of overly dry weather conditions.  On Thursday morning’s news you could watch the heroic rescue of three people from their vehicles that had fallen into a watery ravine after the road had collapsed from nearly 7” of rain around the Broomfield area.

        In short this week’s stories of search and rescue could be used by Jesus as he was giving examples of the 99 and 1, or the woman and her lost coin to the Pharisees.    Often in the reading of these two parables we focus on the objects that have been found, such as the one lost sheep or the one coin.  How many of you when you go to pull change out of your purse or pocket and hear a penny drop from your hand full of loose change will stop what you are doing and start to look for that penny?  Okay, so those of you who would go looking for it, you don’t count because you are what we call the “Depression Babies” and you look at life differently than the rest of us.  But the idea that I’m trying to get us to think about is, why would we be prompted to go looking for that one penny when we might have two or three dollars worth of coins in our hand and we only need sixty cents to pay for what we are trying to purchase?   Or why would we as a sheep herder be interested in leaving a flock of ninety-nine sheep unattended to go and look for that one sheep that has wondered off.  Let’s put a price of $100 per sheep, so you have an investment of $9,900 worth of sheep and $100 off wondering around in the wilderness.  Why would you put the $9,900 at risk for a $100? 

        I am sure that the one sheep that had wondered off was very happy to be found, but these two stories are not about what is lost, but about who was doing the looking.  Scripture states, “When he has found the one sheep, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices.”  And then invites his friends to rejoice with him!  Likewise, the woman who had lost the one coin says, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.”  These parables are talking about the character of the seeker, and more personally, it is speaking to the church.  This text isn’t about putting ourselves in the place of the lost coin or the sheep but in the role of the one who seeks!

        Who was at this little gathering in this morning’s text?  “Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus.  And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  It’s easy to guess that we at Mountain View would fill the role of the Pharisees and scribes in this story, but who would we envision as the “tax-collectors and the sinners?”  That one is a little more difficult to define.  In other words, who in our society, who in our acquaintance would be lost coins or the lost sheep?  After we have figured that out, then we need to ask, “How do we go about finding them” or are they already present and we just aren’t seeing them?

        The lost sheep might be the person who struggles with chronic depression.  We are most like the Pharisees when we make comments like, “If that person would just get out and do something, they would work themselves out of being depressed.”  The lost sheep might be the student who finds it difficult to focus while in school.  The Pharisee in us grumbles, “That kid just needs a good swat on his behind that will teach him to pay attention while in class.”  Yet maybe that child hasn’t eaten in almost a week and because of hunger can’t concentrate, or maybe the family is so dysfunctional that the child has only been taught to deal with life through disobedient behavior.  Maybe the lost coin is the person standing on the street corner with a can in their hand and a sign saying, “help me?”   What does the Pharisee in you say at that instance? 

        In other words the tax-collector and the sinner today is anyone who is disenfranchised or feel under-valued.  This could describe almost all of us in one fashion or another.  Henri Nouwen once said, “We are not loved because we are precious, but we are precious because we are loved.”  Many people who find themselves in prison, when they see people coming into the prisons and spending time with them, sharing the stories about God’s love for them, find themselves understanding for the first time that they are precious.  There is a song that so eloquently expresses what happens when we do not feel valued in the lyrics “Some Peoples Lives”:


Some people's lives run down like clocks.  One day they stop, and that's all they've got.  Some lives wear out like old tennis shoes, no one can use. Well, It's sad but it's true.

Didn't anybody tell them?  Didn't anybody see?  Didn't anybody love them like you love me?

Some people's lives fade like their dreams, too tired to rise, too tired to sleep.  Some people laugh when they need to cry, and they never know why.

Didn't anybody tell them that's not how it used to be?  Didn't anybody love them like you love me?

Some people ask if the tears have to fall.  Then why take your chances? Why bother at all?  And some people's lives are as cold as their lips.  They just need to be kissed.

Doesn't anybody tell them?  Doesn't anybody see?  Doesn't anybody love them like you love me?
'Cause that's all they need.


        I titled this morning’s reflection, “A church of Seekers”, not because I think we should be here seeking God’s truth as much as I think this morning’s text is telling us why we need to be the “Seekers”, the shepherd who goes out and searches for that one lost sheep, or the woman who sweeps and sweeps until she finds that one lost coin.  It is crystal clear that this parable that Jesus is teaching is telling us that it’s not in our repentance that we have been found; after all there was no repenting done by the lost sheep or the lost coin.  Rather, we should be rejoicing as we go out and find that person who is feeling lost, isolated, unimportant, because in God’s eyes, every one of us is so important that God seeks each of us out. 

        Let us not be asking the question, “Didn't anybody tell them?  Didn't anybody see?  Didn't anybody love them like you love me?”  But rather let us seek deliberately, like the Colorado National Guard has been doing over these past few days – rejoicing in finding over 1,700 lost and isolated people who were literally “stuck in the mud and mire.”  Let us be the church of seekers rejoicing as we say, “We love you as God loves you, 'Cause that's all you need.”  At least that’s the start of God’s message!  Amen

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Act of Malleability, by Rev Steven R Mitchell for Mountain View United Church, Aurora, CO

The Act of Malleability

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 9/8/2013

Based on Jeremiah 18:1-11


        When I was in my early twenties, I was a member of a downtown church whose pastor was one of those ministers that I list as being mentored by.  Through him, I learned the value of networking within the secular community, I observed the value of bringing healing where there was brokenness, and experienced a man who always seemed to know what to say.  He was one of two pastors that I studied under who I would refer to as mystics.  There was a running joke among the faculty at the Seminary that I attended that, “Roger Fredrickson could have a religious experience while just walking across a golf course”, followed by childish chuckling.  But it was true, this role model for me was so open to listening for a message from God, that he could have a religious experience while just walking across a golf course.

        There are many places and many ways in which God can and does choose to speak to us.  It can be on the golf course, it can be in a concert hall, or on a walk along a mountain path, or while patiently waiting for a bite on your fishing pole, or in the safe space of your own backyard.  For Jeremiah, his word from God came in two stages.  The first place isn’t identified but it could have been at home, or in a field, even at the temple. No matter where it was God told him to go to the potter’s house for that is where he would receive the message that God had for him.  So Jeremiah goes to the potter’s house and watches how the potter is working with the clay and it is through his observing the artistry of this potter that God comes to Jeremiah with a message for the house of Israel.

        The unfortunate thing for “Prophets” is when God is giving them a message for the people, it usually isn’t coming in the form of a pat on the back, but rather usually as a wake-up call!  Prophets have never been very popular among the general population because the message is usually telling people something they need to know but do not wish to hear.  Ministers from time to time have to be prophets as well, which makes us uneasy as we tend to preferred to be viewed as the caregivers and not the needle in the side. 

Even with the message of gloom and doom that God is passing on to Jeremiah, there is also hope given.  This message that God has given to Jeremiah isn’t for individuals as much as it is for the larger community.  As we read this beautiful metaphor about how the potter works with the clay to shape it into the vessel that the potter has planned for it, it is easy for us to think of the clay as the individual.  But by thinking this way, we are not giving full value to this passage.  Please do not miss understand me in this, the message is to the individual in as much as we are the sum of the whole.  So, it is through the individual that the whole community makes the larger shape of the vessel, that object that is designed to do the larger purpose.

The warning here for Israel and to Judah, is that they are not following God’s ways.   As a people, they are turning away from God, building temples and giving honor to the gods of other nations.  God is saying, as a people if you continue to turn away from me and my purpose for you, I will abandon you to your own follies.  Ultimately, this was seen through the captivity the Hebrews experienced by being carted off to Babylon.  The outcome of turning away from God, for the Hebrew people meant that they were going to be forced out of the promised homeland that God had given them. 

This passage begs a discussion on the old age question of God’s divine sovereignty and human freedom.  In other words, can we as people have the power to change God’s mind?  On the one hand, if we believe that God has a plan set out for us, does this not make us little more than puppets?  If on the other hand we understand that as Humans God has given us freewill, then how much power does God truly possess?  Rev Sally Brown, Associate Professor of Preaching at Princeton Seminary, says: “Jeremiah is addressing primarily the life of the called community.  God means to shape the community of faith in its collective social, religious, and political life to serve divine purpose.”  God states that if the clay doesn’t cooperate with the forming image of the potter’s hands, then the potter will crush it back into a formless state and start over again and continue to work and rework it, until the clay finally becomes what the potter has in mind for it to be.

The question needing to be asked is this: Are we being true to how God wishes to shape us as a community of faith?  Are we, as a collective body serving God’s divine purpose?  And if the answer is “no”, then what can we expect for our future as a community of faith?  If the answer is “yes” then what are the fruits that tell us we are conforming to God’s will?  As a society that prides itself on being independent, of being masters of our own ship, this is a message that we do not like to take an honest look at.  Yet if we do not, we can see through this scripture how God handles his people of faith, by crushing them until they are ready to be malleable enough to be reshaped to where they are useful to God’s purpose.

Again, Rev Brown says of this text, “The language implies that this clay can actively resist the hand of the potter!  In our common life, too, we can choose to align ourselves with God’s redemptive purposes or pursue self-interested agendas.  As your pastor I must ask Mountain View, “What is our purpose?”  “Is it of God’s purpose, or are we pursuing our own self-interested agendas?”  The truth of the matter is, if we are pursuing our self-interested agendas, then like the Hebrew people, we will be driven out of the ministry we say we are providing.  This is probably the most crucial question that we need to be asking ourselves this morning, “of whose purpose are we pursuing?” 

Yet God does not leave words of warning without words of hope.  If we look to other events when God has promised gloom and doom we see where God has had a change of mind.  When Nineveh was going to be destroyed by God, he sent Jonah to warn them to change their ways.  When they believed and repented, God did not destroy them but let them live.  Again, Abraham bargained with God to save those who were righteous in Saddam and Gomorrah, allowing for Lot and his family to live while the cities were destroyed.

As a community of faith, when we realize that we are not being the vessels that God has in mind for us, when we realize we are not doing the desire of God, we too can have a change of mind and heart, and become malleable in the hands of God and become that intended vessel.  When this happens, business as usual will cease and a new style of living will immerge.  The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

The church in America in general can point to a myriad of reasons as to why we have lost members over the past half century and thereby have become ineffective, but are those true reasons or are they excuses for not being malleable to God’s will?  We as a specific community of faith are 40 years old this year.  Have we moved forward over that time span or have we become stagnated, living out our community faith through our own self-agenda over that of what God is calling us to be?  We have the free will to say “yes” to God’s mission for this church if we really wish to be clay in the potter’s hand.  The future of this ministry is in our hands, what shall it be, our way or God’s way?  God was speaking to the people of Judah and Israel through Jeremiah and God is still speaking to us today with the same words of concern and of promise!  Those who have ears hear!  Amen

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Values Found within a Community, by Rev Steven R Mitchell, for Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 9/1/2013

Values Found within a Community

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United Church, Aurora, CO 9/01/2013

Based on Luke 14:1, 7-14


        “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors;… 13 But invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed.”    As we come to this table this morning, we are once again reminded by Jesus’ words about “who” is invited to this table.  And by extension of this table, “who” is invited into this faith community, and finally, “who” is invited into the Kin-dom of God.

        We read this morning that Jesus has been invited to a dinner party given by one of the Pharisees, a member of a religious group that most of us have been taught to be the “bad guys” that Jesus was in constant conflict with.  Yet, Pharisees were the “good people” of their day.  They never missed a religious meeting, they studied the Scriptures, they tithed, and they set the moral standards for their culture.  Today, we would consider them faithful, solid church members.  It would do us well to remember that the Pharisees were operating through one set of lens of how God expects God’s people to act, and that Jesus was operating through a differing set of lens in how he understood the laws of God. 

        The very first verse sets the mood for that particular Sabbath meal, “… he was being carefully watched.”  I don’t know how many of you ever have been invited over to somebody’s house for a social gathering and feel like every move you make is being scrutinized, but as a pastor, I know this feeling.  Pastors by the very nature of the position that they hold in a faith community are always under scrutiny; the cloths that they wear, the type of car that they drive, the house that they live in, the sermons that they preach, even the friends that they keep.  Yet Jesus never seems to be intimidated by this.  In fact, Jesus would see these opportunities as what we call, “a teachable” moment. 

In this story, there are two teachable moments.  The first deals with knowing your place at the table.  One of the first lessons that I learned in Kindergarten was to stand in line, not to shove, or push, or to “cut in” front of somebody.  Today, I observe little of this social ettiquette, especially when driving on the freeway.  Often, when there is a merging sign due to construction, I often see drivers driving as far up that lane as possible in order not to wait their turn in the lines where most drivers have gotten into.  This is a perfect modern day example of what Jesus was talking about trying to rush up to the best seats of a dinner party.  Where Jesus is saying you might very well experience humiliation when someone more important than you arrives and the host asks you to move down to the back of the room, if you are the driver of the car that feels you have the right above everyone else to cut into the head of traffic, should there be a policeman there and he gives you a ticket, not only do you lose time by being forced to sit on the side of the road while the officer takes longer than needed to write you up on an infraction of the law, but you realize, everyone passing by you is giving you the eye as they drive by you.

The second part of today’s parable talks about who we should be inviting to the banquet.  This is the truly difficult lesson for most of us to actually incorporate into our lives.  Jesus talks about the merits of inviting friends and family who can repay your invitation by inviting you over for a meal as well, to that of when you invite those who are viewed as marginalized or seen as disadvantaged over for a meal, those folks who would not be able to repay your kindness.  It is in this discussion that Jesus starts to teach about who God is eager to have included into the kin-dom.  The reality is we, just like the Pharisees those “solid church folks”, would not invite the socially unacceptable into our homes to dine with us.  At the very best, we might buy someone a meal, but would we be willing to sit down with that person and become acquainted with them while they ate?

The book of Luke is full of parties and fellowshipping around food, which gives us a pretty good understanding of what God is looking for.    The importance of breaking bread together around a table is a way in which we take the opportunity to get to know someone.  Once we have become acquainted with that person, that person ceases to be “one of them” and becomes “one of us.”   There is something that compels us when we sit and eat with a stranger to visit with them and learn who they are.  There are people who are said to have, “never known a stranger”, they just seem to have that ability to meet people at any level.  Most of us however have to work at extending our hand to a stranger, not that we are unfriendly, but mostly because we are shy. 

I would like to read a portion of an article written by Frank Rich for the New York Times in August 15, 2010, about the recent death of a wealthy, prominent woman, Judith Dunnington Peabody.  Mrs. Peabody enjoyed the highest place at the tables she graced, and we might think that she would be one of those people who chose to remain in her own circle of privilege and comfort.  The truth is, ”power and wealth are morally neutral, but “how one uses these privileges, that is what matters most to God.”  The article reveals a woman who understood – deeply- what it means to be a blessing, and what it means to love the strangers in our lives, not from afar, but sitting right down, next to them.  In addition to the traditional fundraising that most society matrons engage in, Judith Peabody worked with and for those in need, those whom most folks would have avoided, including, for example a Hispanic youth gang in East Harlem.  Mrs. Peabody understood Jesus’ instructions about whom to invite to one’s table, if the surprise of the doormen at her guest list is a good indicator.  There are those who recall her courage and generosity of spirit, when she also worked hard during the 1980’s as a caregiver for gay men with HIV/AIDS, while others stayed away out of fear.

The blessings that Jesus speaks about in this reading are not the blessings that come to us, sitting around with our hands out praying for them.  Rather, the greatest blessings come when we give of ourselves, unselfishly to those who cannot help themselves.  Several weeks ago, I went back to KS to help care for my mother for a week, to give a break to my sister-in-law who was not only working a job outside of the home, but trying to care for mom as well.  Besides being at beck and call of my mother for things like getting her news paper, refreshing her water, helping her into her wheelchair so she could go to the bathroom, I also had to apply several topical ointments to her whole body, some parts which were pure raw skin.  It was one of the most difficult things that I as a son have been called on to do, but it also was one of the greatest blessings that I received in being allowed to do this.  Where historically, I as a son, had always relied on moms strength, I was given the honor to switch roles and become the strength that she was needing during that time. 

As we come to this table this morning, think about who is missing and how can you be instrumental in inviting them to the next banquet?  Amen.